Bitter coldness, an abundance of cheap beer and pork, Nazi history, aggressive customer service, not understanding anything on a tour and accidentally cruising into an uber-gay bar were just some of the highlights of our trip to the second city of the German region of Bavaria, Nuremberg.
No sooner had I decided, after plenty of indecision, that I was going to take my return flight from Rio de Janeiro to the UK the following week, than it was discovered that there were Ryanair flights from Manchester to Nuremberg, Germany, for the wonderful price of 4 euros return, so having dropped my bags, chatted briefly to my mother and grabbed some winks, I was on the way back to Manchester Airport.
Getting there and accommodation
A little worried as it happened, as the previous day I’d experienced what was probably the worst pain of my life upon landing in two of the three flights I’d taken. A sensation of extreme squeezing pressure building in my right cheek and jaw region which lasted for the whole twenty minutes of the descent. Barotrauma, I later found out, caused by blocked sinuses and consequent trapped air in your face. Not recommended. That considered, I armed myself with chewing gum and Sudafed decongestant pills, and with several pints of beer thrown in, these preventative measures did the trick.
I defied an airport security attendant who wanted me to take my wristbands off and insisted that I’d pass through the X-ray machine to see what happened. As I anticipated, nothing came of them, so no need to remove them. The flight itself took about an hour and a half, and in classic Ryanair fashion, despite setting off a little late, the pilot managed to find some shortcuts which are only afforded to yellow-and-blue-uniformed aviators and we landed a few minutes early to the congratulatory chime of the Ryanair on-time message.
As universally known, German public transport is excellent, so we had no trouble getting from the airport in Nuremberg to our apartment, which we’d snaffled for 150 euros on Booking for two nights between the three of us, just a handful of metro stops away. It’s 3 euros for a single ticket, but for the tourist, the 25-euro NurnCard, which gives you unlimited access to public transport and visitor attractions for 48 hours, is well worth the money, though we had to purchase it the following morning.
We’d identified the main places we wanted to visit amongst the endless list of entrances granted by the tourist card, and in the end, our 48-day stay only allowed for us to take in three attractions.
Our priority was to go the Documentation Centre, reachable by the Number 6 tram from outside the central metro station or via scores of buses. Set in the grounds used by Hitler for annual Nazi rallies back in those times, the main building is a museum, the exhibits of which are ordered chronologically, with extremely informative audio guides explaining the story of the growth of the Nazi party, Hitler’s emergence and the role of Nuremberg before, during and after the Second World War in extremely detailed fashion. However many times you are exposed to such information, the sheer numbers of victims of the era never ceases to amaze you.
Adjacent to the museum, walking about 10 minutes if you go in the correct direction, is the Zeppelin Field, where the Fuhrer’s enigmatic speeches occurred. Even though the spectator area is now converted into playing fields, the platform from which Hitler addressed the masses is intact, and you can stand where he used to stand. Looking out from the raised area, you can appreciate the size of the space, but the photos of the museum showing the grounds packed with crowds really ram home how great a scale the events were run on.
Owing to the previous night’s escapades (more on nocturnal joys later), we’d gotten up a little later than intended, and hadn’t exactly rushed around the Nazi grounds, meaning we were back in the old town at around 4.30pm, the precise time when just about every tourist attraction closes. Having wandered around in the entrance to the dungeons and finding no one to tell us whether or not tours were running we opted to go the rock-cut cellars, pretty much the only thing you can do at that time of day. We paid a 3 euros supplement in order to go on the special beer tour, which would include sampling two locally-brewed ales at the end.
We got the tour just as it was about to be led off by the balding guide, so opted against rushing to pick up audio guides, agreeing that listening to the whole thing in German would provide us with a more authentic experience. Which was undoubtedly the case as I might as well have been listening to television static such was my complete lack of understanding. It’s not true when people say German is similar to English. Resultantly, I was only really able to gauge numbers and places, despite trying to my best to eavesdrop on a Brazilian whispering translations to his girlfriend. Quite a shame in fact, as the guide was clearly very informative in spending an eternity describing each stage of the brewing process, and indeed humorous, owing to the raptures he left our fellow tourists in throughout. Nevertheless, more than an hour later, we made it to the end and enthusiastically toasted the beer we received with a Prost.
On the morning of our departure, we headed over to the castle, certainly the focal point of the city, and remarkably rebuilt as close to the replica as possible after Nuremberg was burnt to the ground at the end of the Second World War. We were greeted by a couple of screaming actresses dressed as medieval wenches, and Will was extremely disappointed that one of them sprung out of her feigned slumber slumped on the stairs just as he was about to get what he though was a selfie with a drunkenly lady.
The entrance to the castle, once again on our NurnCard, involved a tour of the interior, laden with artefacts such as guns, armour and clothing, as well as portraits of bygone important people. On this occasion, we had again neglected to pick up audio guides, so we contented ourselves in merely observing what was on offer, the highlight of which seemed to be a royal caravan of models slinking across the wall, drawn to our attention by a lady evidently encapsulated by the tinkle-tinkle sound it made.
The tour itself was nothing to particularly write home about, and thus we headed to the observation tower, to which you gain access via your ticket. Seeing as Germany is renowned for its innovation and organisation I was surprised that the family in front of me couldn’t figure out how to operate the electronic turnstile, and after what seemed an eternity, were about to give up until I magically made the thing work by simply inserting the ticket in the other way round to which they had been trying. Scaling the steep spiral staircase was somewhat laborious and once at the top you get a panoramic view of the city.
In terms of tourism, these three things were all we managed to do, and there are of course many other interesting places to look at, including an abundance of pretty churches and striking architecture in the old town, though to be frank, the real aim of our visit was to sample the food, beer and nightlife, and by extension get to know a little more about German culture.
It isn’t for nothing that people associate sausages with Germany, and there were an array of stalls and restaurants selling them throughout the old town. We picked up a long and thick bratwurst served on a bap and on a separate occasion went to a restaurant for the classic Nurnberg sausage; a thin porky affair on this occasion served with either a cold potato salad or sauerkraut, a type of cabbage dressed with vinegar which I must admit to enjoying. The lady sat across from us in the restaurant, who we had quite a conversation with, told us that in the olden days, if the sausages were of such a thickness that they didn’t fit in the ancient keyholes, they would be rejected, thus accounting for their size. Imagine if your job was the sausage keyhole tester. And we wonder why nowadays unemployment is constantly on the rise.
On the one occasion that we didn’t get sausages, we were punished by the German gods, as a trip to Burger King proved to be something of a frightening experience. Walking in, nothing appeared out of the ordinary, what with a large, centrally located building. Menus were up, chairs placed in normal positions and attendants were uniformed in black. Yet looking back, there was a glitch that should have prepared me for something out of the ordinary. The rather portly man working in the back as the lone food preparer had not deemed it necessary to use gloves whilst preparing the food, slapping on sandwich fillings like a gap-toothed builder does cement on bricks.
Yet as I observed this worrying lack of hygiene, I was roused by the sharp, accusing tones of the cashier, frothing at the sight of a hump-backed pair of elderly clients, flat-capped and utterly dependent on their walking sticks. What they said I don’t know, firstly as I don’t understand German, but also because they spoke in whispers, such was their frailty. Due to the cashier, a bespectacled lady perhaps in her fifties, barking the word ‘nuggets’ several times and the fact that she suddenly launched a bag of chicken bites into the kitchen, I figured that the couple were trying to return an item they’d mistakenly ordered. Yet before being given what they had asked for, they had to bear more shouting and slamming, before hobbling off to eat their meal.
And that was not all. All of a sudden frozen with fear, Will dared not correct the woman when she undercharged him, I balked at asking her for a lid on my drink, and Matt didn’t chance asking for any sauces. Now, she’d rather haphazardly set several trays on the counter, not accounting for the fact that in order for us clients to disrupt her plastic mosaic, we’d have to lean over other people waiting in the queue. When a German fellow tried correcting the angle of his tray, or maybe even sneaking a French fry before his burger arrived (it’s so blurred I can’t properly remember) she charged at him and shouted ‘Nein’, and I’d like to believe she slapped him on the wrist. None of us dared challenge why our meals were taking so long to be churned out and when we were served, we humbly trudged to our table, head down, and I definitely had something I hadn’t asked for. Our final clash with her would occur when Will showed slight hesitation in disposing of his tray, a touch confused because he was used to scraping his rubbish into the bin rather than placing the whole thing on a rack. What she said, no one knows but it was mono-syllabic, authoritative and involved a stern finger point which made clear the tray must be placed on the rack.
We were mightily impressed at the price of beer, as half a litre usually ranged between 3,30 and 3,80 euros. That even included places which looked a little upmarket, but nevertheless charged a price in this region. Wandering into the night upon arrival, we took a while to locate the main concentration of bars, which happen to mostly be found around the Haubtbahnhof main railway station. Over the course of the two nights, we checked out the three Irish bars in the vicinity, if only to keep up the crawl aspect of our bar-hopping, and I once again confirmed that such establishments generally have a higher percentage of males than females.
Which brings us on to a series of strange happenings commencing at a bar in the aforementioned area that we wandered into.
I won’t deny that when abroad I like speaking to strangers, especially those of the female kind, so it was without hesitation that I engaged an attractive blonde girl sat on her own at a table at the back of the bar. We’d been amicably chatting for a while, that is us three males with her, when suddenly another man turned up and stood next to her. Worried that it was her boyfriend, although later events would call that into question, I had a momentary lapse and there was danger of awkwardness as I offered my hand and he didn’t take it, before he offered his and I didn’t take it, though I managed to rescue the conversation and we got talking about what nice bars there were in the area.
The pair reeled off a whole host of recommendations, but we opted for what seemed the closest. Apparently: ‘Leave the bar, left, right, right.’ Thus having finished our drinks, we took off and followed their directions. Needing a pee, I went straight to the bathroom, which incidentally didn’t have a lock. Will went to the bar and asked for the customary three lagers, while Matt scouted out a place to sit. Only once the drinks had been poured did we become aware that we were in a special type of bar. One where barmen flamboyantly dance as they deliver drinks, where the Jukebox spurned out an eclectic mix of Britney Spears, Madonna and other female power ballad artists, and where there was a distinct lack of oestrogen. Matt then said something along the lines of: ‘Have a look around. I think we’re in a…’
Of course, a full-on gay bar. Several robust men sporting blonde wigs, others with make-up and another one, who Will initially insisted was female, climbing all over the tables and chairs with its backside swinging all over the place, modesty only intact due to what I think is termed a garter. Had the kind gentleman in the previous bar inflicted revenge upon us for talking to his girlfriend? Or did he plan to meet us here later?
Instead of running out, we were confident enough in our heterosexuality to stick around and decided to enjoy the spectacle rather than be disturbed by it. We didn’t get much attention, whether that was due to us arriving together and them thinking we were a cheery threesome, I don’t know, but the guy on my left did make indiscreet shuffles towards me on the bench we were sharing, and proceeded to kick my shins a few times in what I assume was an attempted stroke of my leg. All despite never looking in our direction.
More convincing were the moves made by a genuine woman towards Will, and she repeatedly tried to engage him in conversation. A tall, brunette lady, with long flowing hair and a compelling stare. From the exotic country of Croatia, home to swathes of beautiful women. Yet he buckled in the face of her advances. And it wasn’t because she was the wrong side of fifty.
The above isn’t to say that Nuremberg is lacking in decent places for straight men to go to. The previous night we’d chanced upon Stereo, a rock club which happened to be on happy hour as we arrived, meaning we could take full advantage of beers for 2 euros. Add to that a heavy ratio of females not accompanied by males and a basement dance floor dedicated to a blend of British and German indie music, and we’d chosen wisely. We were in awe of a long-maned gentleman who kicked off the action on the dance floor on his own and managed to stay there until the very end, despite him not interacting with a single person during that time.
A quirk of Nuremberg, or perhaps Germany, was that many bars don’t operate tills, instead plumping for a designated member of staff to carry a purse around with them. Which functioned well for the most part, except when a scary short-haired barmaid became irked at me when I told her that I didn’t want more beers, but to pay for the ones I’d already consumed, slamming my change on the bar.
Nuremberg certainly makes for a decent European break, especially if you get hold of the NurnCard. Transport is super-efficient, food and drink is adequately-priced and reasonably-tasting, while the locals are for the most part helpful and willing to chat to strangers. There are lots of touristy things to do beyond the Nazi rally grounds, caves and castle if you have the time and the majority of bars are cosy and welcoming, regardless of the clientele you encounter inside.